GLENWOOD, N.M. Wolves reintroduced to the Southwest by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have killed more livestock, and their brethren several states to the north found friends on an appeals court panel.
A bull owned by Bud Collins was confirmed by federal officials as a wolf kill on Jan. 12.
Collins is the same rancher who last month lost a pregnant cow to wolves near here. The cow was the first case of livestock in New Mexico confirmed as killed by a wolf since the reintroduction program began two years ago.
Another bull is missing, says the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association, and presumed to have also been killed by wolves.
Bud Collins' Cross Y Ranch lost the young bred cow Sunday, Dec. 26, in the Gila National Forest at a line camp in Catron County, New Mexico, to wolves which are a part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Mexican gray wolf reintroduction program.
There have been four reports of livestock killed by wolves in Arizona's Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest.
Today, about 22 wolves roam in five packs along the Arizona-New Mexico border. All the cattle deaths have been attributed to the Gavilan Pack, which consists of a mated pair, a yearling male and five pups. Six wolves were reported responsible for the killing of the bred cow. Hunters who discovered the cow's carcass say wolves were still lounging around it when they got there. They say the wolves did not appear to be afraid of humans.
The Southwest Center for Biological Diversity reports that the FWS has started trapping the Gavilan pack. They quote the federal agency as saying the alpha male will never be re-released. The agency also says there is a chance that none of the pack will be released to the wild again.
The FWS has already captured the entire Pipestem pack, the first Mexican wolves to reproduce successfully in the wild. After first indicating the Pipestem Pack would quickly be freed in the Gila Wilderness, the agency has instead kept them in pens for about six months.
Defenders of Wildlife said they paid Collins $1400 for the cow killed by the wolves and hired a temporary ranch hand to help Collins keep an eye on his cows.
"Where was the Defenders of Wildlife herder?" asked Caren Cowan of the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association.
According to one of the 34 individuals who were on hand this month to witness the verification of the bull's death from a wolf attack, federal agents stated that the Gavilan pack would be picked up, but that it would take time.
The killings by the reintroduced wolves come after a federal judge in October dismissed a lawsuit by livestock producers trying to halt the program.
Defenders of Wildlife claims to have paid out about $35,000 to ranchers in western states, including Central Idaho, the Yellowstone National Park area and Northwestern Montana. About $2000 has been paid to Arizona ranchers who lost livestock to the wolves.
Defenders of Wildlife has a wolf compensation fund of $200,000 to cover losses caused by re-introduced wolves. In addition, the organization has a $100,000 fund to compensate ranchers who lose livestock to grizzly bears.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is apparently proceeding with its plans to build release pens within the Gila Wilderness for Mexican gray wolves to be released in the area.
The New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau is another staunch critic of the wolf reintroduction plan. In a news release distributed after the Cross Y cow kill but before the bull attack was discovered, NMFLB executive vice president Norm Plank quoted ranch owner Bud Collins describing the scene of the kill, based on the evidence.
"She ran two miles from the pasture to the line camp," Collins said of the cow. "They were chewing on her all the way and she died close to the cabin. She was looking for protection. It was pretty grisly."
"I hope the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees are proud of themselves," Plank continued. "The sad thing is, they probably are. And where are the normally vocal people in the so-called animal rights movement? They are the ultimate hypocrites in their selective silence.
"Mr. Collins also stated that the deer and elk populations are almost nonexistent in his area," Plank went on. "When the cattle are gone, what is the next meal for the wolf? Hunters? Household pets? Horses? Where does it end? Are the backpackers, fishermen, and hunters willing to give up their rights for this boondoggle?
"We are very concerned that it's only a matter of time until these misplaced vicious predators attack a person. What then? Are these government-fed wolves worth one single life? The answer is no."
Plank has little use as well for the Defenders of Wildlife and its compensation plan.
"Our experience with them," he says, "indicates that ... the real forte of the Defenders of Wildlife is distributing false information, jamming our phone lines, and threatening people. The cow that was killed has much more value beyond its market price. No consideration is given for future calf-bearing years. So their offers are meaningless hype."
Finally, he adds, "You might also want to call or drop a line to the Defenders of Wildlife and ask what the going price is for a family pet, or for that matter, a child."
In a separate but related matter, a federal appeals court ruled Jan. 13 in Denver that hundreds of transplanted Canadian wolves can remain in the northern Rockies.
The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a 1997 decision by a Wyoming federal judge who ruled that a government wolf reintroduction program in Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho was illegal.
Ranchers and state farm bureaus oppose the five year-old program in that region because the wolves endanger livestock. They also contend the program is unnecessary because there is already a viable wolf population in the area.
The government and environmental activist groups deny the second point, claiming there may be only a few lone native wolves.
The groups suing over the program, the American Farm Bureau Federation and state chapters in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, point out that while native wolves are covered by the Endangered Species Act, the reintroduced wolves are considered part of an experimental population and can be shot if they threaten livestock. The farm groups say the reintroduction program violates the Endangered Species Act by providing different protections to the native and the reintroduced wolves.
But the appeals court said the 1973 Endangered Species Act and a section added by Congress in 1982 were intended to allow the Interior Department flexibility in its approaches to the goals of preserving and recovering officially "threatened" animals.
The appeals court said a limit to that flexibility ignores biological reality and misconstrues the larger purpose of the law.
Activist groups that joined Clinton administration Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and other government agencies in the appeal of the Wyoming ruling say the decision sets an important precedent.
"The practical effect is that the wolves are here to stay," crowed Mark Van Putten, president of the National Wildlife Federation.
He said the decision has enormous significance nationwide.
Babbitt called the decision "a ringing endorsement to our wolf reintroduction program."
Jon Robinett, who says his livestock have been attacked repeatedly by wolves at his ranch in Dubois, Wyo., about 40 miles from Yellowstone, was disappointed with the ruling.
"I just don't think they paid close enough attention to what was presented to them," he says of the appeals court judges. "Maybe they weren't well-versed in the Endangered Species Act."
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